Maximize your fun -- and minimize your health risks -- with our best natural solutions for summer ailments.
Your grass and weed pollen allergies shouldn't preclude you from lazing about at a summer picnic. Seek out a natural antihistamine such as quercetin, a type of antioxidant found in onions and citrus fruits. Available in supplement form, 1,000 mg of quercetin taken three times daily throughout the season should help you stay symptom free, says naturopath and "Prescription for Natural Cures" coauthor Mark Stengler. And in a 2000 study from "Alternative Medicine Review," researchers found that quercetin was even more effective against allergies when paired with bromelain (enzymes found in pineapples). Other ideas: Pack a thermos of nettle tea (another natural antihistamine), says ethnobotanist Chris Kilham. Cutting back on dairy may also help reduce congestion and sinus-pressure headaches, he says.
Don't skimp on the sunscreen. "To get protection for a variety of reasons, including skin-cancer prevention, use an SPF of 30 or over on your entire body and face, including your lips," says naturopath Koren Barrett. Slather on enough lotion to fill a shot glass, reapplying every couple of hours that you spend outside. And when purchasing sunscreen, check the ingredients list for zinc oxide, a shield against both UVA and UVB rays. Once you're out of the sun, rub in some borage oil, a rich source of gamma-linoleic fatty acid, to help protect against sun-related aging. "Borage oil should not be used as a substitute for sunscreen," says aromatherapist Constance Hart, "but it may help reverse damage from UV rays."
For those prone to motion sickness, traveling can feel more like torture than leisure. But ginger, shown to ease nausea in a number of studies on pregnant women, can keep you from turning green while on the road or the high seas. Stengler recommends sipping ginger tea throughout your trip; Kilham notes that ginger candies work, too. And for a quick aromatherapy treatment, Hart suggests rubbing pure ginger oil on your lower belly and inhaling orange essential oil. Wearing an acupressure wristband may also make for a drug-free alternative to medications. The band stimulates the Nei-Kuan acupressure point, an action found to relieve nausea in many studies on post-op patients.
Eucalyptus is "all powerful" in breaking up the congestion that accompanies summer colds, says essential-oil educator Andrea Butje. Three times a day, fill a bowl with steamy-hot water and add one drop of essential oil of Eucalyptus globulus. Cover your head with a towel, lean in, and breathe deeply for one minute. Keep your eyes closed for the whole treatment, says Butje. For cold relief, Kilham recommends the immune-boosting herb andrographis. "A few 300 mg capsules at the first sign of a cold can usually knock it out."
Keep a calendula-based salve or cream in your backpack to prevent infection of cuts and scrapes suffered out on the trails. Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, bee propolis spray or tincture also staves off infection when applied four times daily, says Stengler.
On especially sweltering days, prevent heatstroke by staying hydrated, avoiding diuretics such as alcohol and caffeine, and spending most of your time in the shade or the water, or in a cool indoor space. Although heatstroke must be treated with medical attention, you can stimulate recovery by taking two pellets of the homeopathic remedy natrum muriaticum (at 30C strength) four times daily, says Stengler.
With its anti-inflammatory effects, aloe vera is your best salve for sunburn pain. Squeeze the amino-acid-rich gel directly from the plant, or apply a product containing 95 percent to 100 percent pure aloe vera, says Stengler. For a skin-cooling soak, combine a cup of powdered milk with 10 drops of lavender essential oil, says Hart. Shake the ingredients in a jar and let sit for a day before pouring into lukewarm bath water.
Make your own DEET-free insect repellent by blending five drops of patchouli essential oil, 2 ounces of witch hazel, and eight to 10 drops of cedarwood essential oil in a spray bottle, says Butje. Apply frequently.
Indulged in one too many servings of ambrosia salad? Unburden your belly by drinking a cup of chamomile tea or chewing on fennel seeds. Both natural remedies act as carminatives to aid digestion and dispel gas from the stomach, says Koren Barrett, N.D.
Whether it's the result of an all-out workout or a long day of play, muscle soreness will subside sooner with the right rubs and balms. Choose natural muscle rubs that contain menthol and eucalyptus, shown to possess anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties in a 2003 study from the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology." Homeopathic arnica can speed healing as well, says Barrett. Take five pellets of arnica (at 30C strength) three times a day to reduce pain, swelling, and bruising.
New sandals or hiking boots can rub you the wrong way. Tamanu oil, a botanical extract that Kilham considers "the No. 1 remedy for skin problems," helps blisters heal fast and infection-free. Apply a drop or two of the oil (available at mountainroseherbs.com) directly to your blister, cover it up with a bandage, and try to avoid chafing.
Traveling across time zones can throw your circadian rhythms out of whack, resulting in insomnia, fatigue, headache, and general crankiness. To prevent jet lag, adjust your bedtime by an hour each day leading up to your flight (to match the sleep schedule you'll follow when you reach your destination), says Barrett. Stay awake on flights if it's daytime at your landing place; try to sleep if it's nighttime where you're headed. And drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight, since dehydration can exacerbate jet lag symptoms. Supplementing with melatonin can help reset your natural rhythms, according to Barrett. "Take 1 mg when you want to go to sleep, and continue taking it at bedtime until your sleep cycle is regulated," she suggests. Rhodiola rosea, an herb that helps the body adapt to stress, also acts as a "beautiful system-balancing material," says Kilham. For three days before and after traveling, take 150 mg to 300 mg of a product standardized to 3 percent rosavins.
Campers, backpackers, and other outdoorsy types can steer clear of poison ivy, oak, and sumac by knowing how to identify each plant: Poison ivy typically has a woody, ropelike vine and three leaflets that turn green in the summer; poison oak shows off clusters of yellow berries and oaklike leaves (usually in clusters of three); and poison sumac is a rangy shrub that grows up to 15 feet tall, with seven to 13 smooth-edge leaflets. The sap of all three plants contains urushiol, a chemical that triggers rashes, blisters, and itching. If you do brush up against one of these plants, try a cool or lukewarm bath in oatmeal-powder-infused water. Taking two pellets of homeopathic rhus toxicodendron (at 30C strength) daily can also alleviate symptoms, says Stengler.
For starters, go easy on the blender. Frosty concoctions like daiquiris and margaritas may make for the perfect summer cocktail, but it's those sugary drinks that do a number on you, says Kilham. If you've partied too hard, replace the lost nutrients and restore your energy by taking 100 mg of a B-complex vitamin and drinking plenty of water.
When sticky weather brings on a heat rash, cool off with a lavender essential oil and aloe vera fusion. "Lavender is the queen of skin remedies," says Butje. Try mixing a half-ounce of aloe vera gel with five drops of oil and applying it to the skin. The mixture is anti-inflammatory, so it reduces the redness and heat of the rash. Massaging in some calendula salve can have a similar hydrating, calming effect.
We may have visions of swinging in a hammock on summer weekends, but the reality is we often try to cram in way too much (both work and play) during the warm months. The result? Exhaustion. A study published in 2005 in "Phytotherapy Research" found that use of a class of herbal remedies called adaptogens "effectively increases mental performance and physical working capacity in humans," with rhodiola rosea emerging as the most energy-rousing herb. Indeed, both Kilham and Stengler name rhodiola as a supreme solution for heat-spurred fatigue. "It really works for bringing a person to greater vitality," says Kilham, who recommends a daily dose of rhodiola standardized to 3 percent rosavin in tincture, tablet, or capsule form (follow package directions). Another fatigue fighter, the mineral-rich Peruvian vegetable maca is "spectacular for building up your energy," says Kilham. Look for maca in powdered form and add it to smoothies, juice, or frozen yogurt -- or try the herb in tincture or capsule form. Of course, no remedy is as effective as rest in beating exhaustion. In addition to taking regular timeouts from the heat, says Stengler, stay hydrated, exercise during the cooler parts of the day, and start each morning with a multivitamin and sublingual (dissolving under the tongue) B12 supplement.
Tending to a thriving summer garden can leave your hands dry, sore, and cracked, but you can soften your skin with a calendula-based cream or salve. And when combined with a carrier oil such as jojoba or almond, tamanu oil helps restore skin that's withstood too much chafing, says Kilham.
Eating juicy foods like mango and watermelon can "give you a great, big belly full of water" and up your dehydration defense, says Kilham. Try to drink eight glasses of water daily, especially if you're active. And if you're on a major hiking trek or biking excursion, Kilham cautions against skipping the salt: Since sweating can disturb your sodium-water balance, replenish by snacking on salty foods like tamari almonds. To speed recovery if you do feel dehydrated, Stengler, recommends taking two pellets of homeopathic china officinalis (at 30C strength).
As you're wandering the globe this season, steer clear of food-borne illness by getting your daily fill of garlic (in food or capsule form) and probiotics (through yogurt or acidophilus supplements). Garlic provides antibacterial action, and probiotics build up your gut's beneficial bugs to counter harmful bacteria, says Barrett. If you do end up with a queasy stomach, taking an activated-charcoal supplement can help absorb the toxins and restore your digestive health.
To treat bee stings and mosquito bites, apply a paste made from baking soda and water. The combo can neutralize the bug's venom, says Barrett, who recommends taking five pellets of homeopathic apis (at 30C strength) three times daily until the itchiness subsides. And a drop of lavender essential oil applied to the bite can "take out the itch and sting almost right away," says Butje.